At the National Inventors Hall of Fame® (NIHF), we have the unique privilege of honoring inventors who have made the world a better place, and we interact with their inventions daily!
If you are flying to a vacation destination this summer, we invite you to keep in mind the NIHF Inductees below who helped make safe air travel a reality.
Following a series of high-profile controlled flight into terrain (CFIT) crashes in the 1960s, airline owners began desperately looking for ways to improve aircraft safety. Specifically, they wanted to provide their pilots with the ability to know if they were flying too close to the ground or nearing a mountain. In response to this need, NIHF Inductee Don Bateman invented the Ground Proximity Warning System (GPWS) — a device that automatically warns pilots if their aircraft is flying too close to the ground. This system worked so well, that in 1973 the Federal Aviation Administration began requiring GPWS in all commercial aircraft. Bateman also made improvements to landing systems in aircraft, and today his Enhanced Ground Proximity Warning System continues to advance safety within the aviation industry.
Elmer Ambrose Sperry
NIHF Inductee Elmer Ambrose Sperry made significant contributions across the field of transportation with inventions including a gyroscopic-guided automatic pilot for ships and airplanes. While both have the tendency to move and shift on their own, Sperry believed that a spinning gyroscope would be able to reposition these vehicles and maintain their original orientation. His intuition was correct, and today his technology has even been applied to spacecraft. Sperry’s other inventions include a gyroscopic turn indicator, which enabled pilots to fly without visual reference to the ground or horizon, and a device used to find transverse fissures in rails. The latter of these was called “one of the most important safety moves in years,” by the American Railway Association.
Theodore von Kármán
NIHF Inductee Theodore von Karman is best known for developing and applying his theory of the vortex trail, the world’s first theory of supersonic drag. Von Karman’s work in this area allowed him to develop a more aerodynamic structure for planes and wings. His contributions to our understanding of turbulence were also applied to the future aerodynamic designs of airships, airplanes and rockets. Hailed as a genius both during and after his lifetime, von Karman was awarded the National Medal of Science in 1962 by President John F. Kennedy, and the Wright Brothers Memorial Trophy in 1954.
Learn More About Our Trailblazing Inductees
To learn more about NIHF Inductees, we invite you to visit our website and our museum, located inside the United States Patent and Trademark Office Headquarters, Madison Building, just outside Washington, D.C.